Rugby World Cup 2015 preview: Favourites New Zealand look unbeatable
The waiting is almost over; the Rugby World Cup kicks off this weekend as the best teams go head-to-head to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy. England play host to this eighth edition, while New Zealand arrive as holders and determined to keep a grip on their crown.
Southern Hemisphere outfit the All Blacks are massive favourites to win the competition again, and in the process become the first nation ever to win successive titles.
Holders New Zealand are a 5/4 price with Coral to be World Cup winners again and, with the amount of top-quality talent at their disposal, it would be no surprise should they come out on top. Steve Hansen’s men have won this tournament on two previous occasions but never away from home.
England must be feeling the pressure of being the host nation. Stuart Lancaster’s side are 4/1 to grab a second title. However, their first task will be getting out of what is probably the hardest World Cup pool in history.
The Red Rose will have to better either Wales or Australia just to make it to the quarter-finals. They will look to the fact that three of the seven host nations have won this tournament in the past.
Only three teams have beaten New Zealand since their win in 2011; they are England, Australia and South Africa. The Springboks are second in the world rankings, but have suffered four successive losses this year, which is hardly great preparation for this showpiece.
South Africa are seen by many as the biggest threat to the All Blacks, but a semi-final clash with the holders looks extremely likely, and their 9/2 price reflects that.
Back-to-back Six Nations champions Ireland are the top ranked European nation going into the World Cup and 15/2 to take the title. Joe Schmidt’s side are the third best team on the planet, and in Johnny Sexton have one of the game’s best number 10s in the world, though much will rely on his fragile fitness.
The Aussies are always a threat in major competitions, so wins against New Zealand and South Africa in the Rugby Championship earlier this season will buoy the Wallabies.
Australia (8/1) have some real match winners in their armoury, most notably Israel Folau, who became the only man to win the John Eales Medal in successive years in 2015. If they win Pool A, the men from Down Under will be on the opposite side of the draw to neighbours New Zealand, which could pivotal to their hopes.
Wales couldn’t haven’t had worse preparation for this tournament. Injuries to key men Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb in their final warm-up games have seriously dented any chances they had. Warren Gatland’s team have been handed an awful pool and, with the loss of some of their star men, they look set to struggle at 25/1.